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By Mike Sandrolini
MAYWOOD | Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins described a town hall meeting held July 15 at the Village Council Chambers as “fantastic.”
And she said additional town hall meetings will be held in the future.
“I promised that every other month, we’re going to do a town hall meeting for the citizens to come in and tell us what they think because they’re the ones paying these high taxes for poor services,” she said.
“We’re working on these poor services; it’s not like we’re just standing still. We are working on that.”
The Council Chambers were filled to near capacity as the meeting was attended by residents, village trustees and other village officials, including Village Manager Willie Norfleet Jr.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was scheduled to appear, but ended up not being able to attend. However, 1st District Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin gave his take on several issues while also fielding questions from the audience for the duration of the meeting.
Although a range of issues were addressed, three topics in particular were foremost on residents’ minds: Cook County’s proposed tax on sugary drinks, property taxes and bringing in a grocery store to replace Aldi’s—the village’s only grocery store at the time which closed its doors last December.
SUGARY DRINK TAX
The sugary drink tax—a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on soft drinks and other sweetened beverages that is projected to raise $68 million in revenue for the county— was to have gone into effect by now, but a court order stemming from a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association has put implementation of the tax on hold.
A Cook County judge is scheduled to rule on the tax this Friday.
Around 300 Cook County employees were given layoff notices the day before Maywood’s town hall meeting. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said that as many as 1,100 county jobs would need to be cut if the tax is not implemented—with a vast majority of those cuts coming from the Cook County Sheriff’s office.
At the town hall, Boykin blasted Preckwinkle, calling the sugary drink tax “a regressive tax” and voting against it despite, he says, being lobbied by Preckwinkle to cast his vote for it.
“The vote was 8-8 and she broke the tie,” Boykin said. “She tried to persuade me and called me 20 times to vote for it.
“If I go to Starbucks and get a Frappuccino, it’s loaded with sugar but they don’t charge you,” he said. “If you buy can of Coke or Pepsi you’re taxed; 100 percent pure juice is not taxed but loaded with sugar. That’s the hypocrisy.”
Boykin said Cook County residents who live close to surrounding counties will simply go across county lines to avoid paying the tax, just like they do to avoid, for example, paying higher gasoline taxes.
“You can go to DuPage County; you’re going to buy your gas, groceries and eat while you’re there,” he said. “What those things do is make Cook County less desirable and competitive. Cook County has lost more population than any other county in the United States. Why? Because we haven’t necessarily had bold leadership. There’s lot of waste, bloating and redundancy in county government. How do we cut (jobs in Cook County if the sugary drink tax doesn’t go through) without jeopardizing safety?”
Two Maywood residents questioned Boykin about property taxes—specifically higher property taxes and the time residents are allotted to pay their tax bills. On the latter issue, a woman told Boykin that she received her property tax bill on the second week of July and has only until Aug. 1 to pay it. She added that the county “used to give us until September.”
Another woman told Boykin and attendees that she’s had to walk away from her home after many years because her annual tax bill is around $7,000.
“I can’t afford it,” she said. “My mortgage was $205,000. Something has to give if we’re going to rebuild this community. It’s crazy. I go to the assessor’s office every year. I know how to read my tax bill. We’re not getting anything in return for that. If you make $40,000 or $50,000 a year, you have to take $1,500 off the top every month just for your house.”
Citing a story in the Chicago Tribune about how homes are assessed, Boykin noted that homes in poorer communities “are assessed higher than in wealthier places.”
“People are being over-assessed higher than in poorer communities and that’s not right,” he added.
He urged homeowners to appeal their property taxes. “If you complain about your property taxes being too high, they’ll lower it,” Boykin said. “Eighty-five (85) percent of appeals are winnable. That means that we’re assessing these properties high and they (homeowners) don’t appeal.”
In spite of efforts by Boykin, Perkins and other village and elected state officials to keep Aldi’s open in Maywood, the store—which first opened in June, 1994—closed on Dec. 24.
The store’s closing was still fresh on the minds of residents at the town hall meeting. Boykin explained that a big reason why Aldi’s closed, along with the Maywood Checker’s restaurant, is high taxes.
But he promised residents that “we’re going to work and use every ounce of my influence to get a grocery store here that you can support. Boykin added that “I know the village manager (Norfleet) is working furiously to get a grocery store in Maywood.”
Perkins didn’t mince words: “We’re going to get a grocery store.”
“We could have had a grocery store, but the old board turned it down,” Perkins said. “We had a bank that was going to come in, but the old board turned that down. It’s not that we haven’t had the opportunity. It’s just that the people that you have in charge makes a difference. You need votes on the board to get things done, so now with the new board, hopefully, we can make that happen.”
Efforts to bring in a new grocery store notwithstanding, Norfleet emphasized that a store has to make a profit and be supported locally in order for it to stay in town.
“If a person is not going to make a profit, they are not going to invest because you want them to,” he said. “We’ve had stores (in Maywood) before; they can’t make money, they leave. The bottom line is always the same: If our community becomes a place that attracts investors, then it will happen.”
MAYWOOD TO BENEFIT
Boykin announced that Maywood has received over $250,000 in grants for road resurfacing in recent months, and that the county board has approved additional grant money earmarked toward improving Washington Blvd.
“We’re glad for that always,” said Perkins in reference to receiving the grant money. “If you’re not at the table, you can’t get anything. In the past the village of Maywood has not been at the table. In the four years that I’ve been here, we’ve been at the table and we’re working at being at the table because that makes a difference.”
“We’re going to make it in the village of Maywood,” Boykin said. “They don’t like me down there (at the Cook County board). Before I got into office, I did some accounting of how much money was coming into the 1st District. On transportation side of things, before I got into office, over the last 16 years, zero percent came in for transportation. This district—no money for transportation the last 16 years.
“We changed that. We’ve got money going to Maywood, Broadview and Bellwood. These folks pay the gas tax. I’ll shame them (the board) to death; I’ll embarrass them. Since I’ve got there, I’ve been asking and I’ve been yelling. We will never allow this district to go without having their needs unmet.”
Perkins said the village will be hiring a grant facilitator soon.
“I’ve been trying to get a grant writer for four years,” she said. “We’re going to have a facilitator finally that is a grant writer. I disagree with the concept, but I’ll work with whatever I can get because it’s about revenue that you need.”